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Common Advice Scientifically Proven To Kill Motivation

Common Advice Scientifically Proven To Kill Motivation

Some people say that to keep your motivation high you need to review your progress frequently.  Others say you should keep your eye on the prize and notice the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

bigstock_Teenage_girl_studying_at_the_d_13025183Is one of these perspectives right and the other wrong?

It turns out that psychologists have studied this question and their answer was surprising to me.

Each of these ways of thinking about your goal can reduce motivation or increase motivation depending on your level of commitment to your goal.

If you are highly committed to your goal, thinking about how much you have left to do called to-go thinking raises motivation but thinking about how much you’ve accomplished — to-date thinking — reduces motivation.

The opposite is true if your level of commitment is uncertain or low.  Thinking about how much you’ve accomplished will raise motivation and how much you have left to do will lower motivation.

One of many studies that demonstrate this point was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In this study researchers had college students who were studying for a core-course exam think about their progress in terms of how much studying they’d done or how much studying they had left to do.

These students were highly committed to getting a good grade on the exam because it was for a core course and those that thought in terms of how far they’d come, had less motivation to study and studied much less than those students who thought in terms of how much work they had left to do.

In the same study another group of college students were assigned time to study for an elective-course exam – this would be something they had low and/or uncertain commitment to.

Some of these students were made to think in terms of how much progress they had made on studying for the exam and others were made to think in terms of how much work they had to do.

And these students experienced the opposite effects of those studying for the core-course exam.

Those thinking about how much work was left to do studied less and reported feeling less motivated.  Those thinking about how much work they’d accomplished felt more motivated and studied for more hours.

But why does thinking about how much work is left to do or has been done have different effects depending on your level of commitment?

Researchers say this is because when you think in terms of how much progress you’ve made on something important to you, it activates a drive to achieve more balance, so you end up spending more time on other goals.

And when your commitment is low or uncertain it’s as if you ask the question “How committed am I?” and you look to your own behavior for evidence of commitment.  If you see that you have been putting time and energy into a goal, you decide that this goal must be important to you.  Thinking about how much is left to do does not provide evidence of commitment and so does not raise your motivation.

So now you know what to do to raise your commitment to your goal if it is low and how to keep your motivation high if you’re already highly committed to achieving your goal.

How will you use this information to get more done and reach your goals?

Leave a comment with your answer below.

Resources:
Dynamics of self-regulation: How (un)accomplished goal actions affect motivation. Koo, Minjung; Fishbach, Ayelet
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 94(2), Feb 2008, 183-195. doi:http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/ayelet.fishbach/research/todatetogo.pdf

How Thinking of Failure Can Help You Succeed

How Thinking of Failure Can Help You Succeed

I know the title of this post sounds strange and may even be impossible to believe.  However, recent research shows it’s true – thoughts of failure can help you succeed.  And more surprisingly thoughts of success can help you fail.  It all depends on how many successes or failures you are thinking about.

In one study conducted by Leila Selimbegovica, Isabelle Régnerb, Rasyid Bo Sanitiosoc and Pascal Huguetd participants were divided into four groups.

Members of each group were asked to think about math memories before taking a math test.

One group was asked to think of one time they succeeded in math.

Another group was asked to think of one time they failed in math

A third group was asked to think of several math successes.

A fourth group was asked to think of several math failures.

Which groups did best on the test?

The group that thought of several successes in math AND the group that thought of only one failure in math did better than the other groups.

But why?

Researchers explain that when a person thinks of just one failure or one success they think that the event was produced by external factors.  So the failure or success was caused by something other than the person’s traits.  This means that thinking of one success makes you think that you are not responsible for the success which lowers your confidence and performance.  And thinking of just one failure makes you feel you are not responsible for that failure which surprisingly raises your confidence and performance.

However, when you think of several successes or failures, the only thing in common with all those experiences is that they happened to you.  And your mind infers from this that something about you produced those successes or failures.  As a result, thinking of many successes makes you confident and thinking of many failures makes you lose confidence (no surprise there).

So how do you use this information to better your life?

Before an important meeting or performance, think of the many times in the past you have succeeded or if you don’t have any past successes, think of one and only one time you failed.

You’ll give yourself a confidence boost that will increase your chances of success.

Reference:

Influence of general and specific autobiographical recall on subsequent behavior: The case of cognitive performance.
Leila Selimbegovica, Isabelle Régnerb, Rasyid Bo Sanitiosoc and Pascal Huguetd.

An Illusion That Can Prevent You From Achieving Your Goals

An Illusion That Can Prevent You From Achieving Your Goals

Did you know that if something is difficult, we’ll often think it’s important for reaching our goals?  This can actually make it harder to get what we want in life.

Recent research done at the University of Chicago shows why.

Sixty-two college students participated in the study.  Half were primed for the goal of becoming a kinder person and half were not.

Of those primed for the goal of becoming kinder, half were given materials on a non-profit organization called Kids In Danger that were easy to read and another half given materials that were difficult to read.  All participants were asked to donate money to the charity.

Those who had the goal of becoming kinder donated more money when the materials were difficult to read than when they were easy to read.  Also those who did not have the goal of becoming kinder did not donate more money when the materials were hard to read.

Why?

The researchers noted that past studies show that people associate effort with things that will help them achieve their goals.  And they also do the reverse: If something takes effort they think it must be helpful in achieving their goals.

So participants who wanted to become kinder people thought that Kids In Danger would be more helpful in achieving that goal when the information they were given was harder to read.

Why is this important to know?

Because without realizing it, we often think that a hard path to achieving our goals is the most fruitful.  This is not always the case.

A recent example of this is a friend of mine who spends many hours at the gym yet isn’t getting the results he’s looking for.  I told him of a fitness program that may get him better results in much less time.

He told me “It can’t be that easy.”  And dismissed the idea totally.

While I can’t say that this other fitness program would guarantee him the results he wants, I do know that just because it takes less time (and less effort) doesn’t mean it won’t produce better results.

What examples do you have of people (yourself included) who’ve taken a hard road to achieving their goals when an easier approach was available?

I’d love to hear your answers and any other comments you have below.

Reference to study above:

Psychological Science 2009 Jan;20(1):127-34.
The “instrumentality” heuristic: why metacognitive difficulty is desirable during goal pursuit. Labroo AA, Kim S.

A Common Self-Help Technique That’s Proven To Cause Failure And What To Do Instead

A Common Self-Help Technique That’s Proven To Cause Failure And What To Do Instead

Many a self-help book touts the power of positive visualization to help you achieve your goals.  However, recent research shows that a common type of visualization often advocated in these books can actually keep you from achieving your goals.

In one study done at UCLA, one group of students was encouraged to visualize getting a great grade on their upcoming final exam.  Another group was not asked to visualize.  Both groups logged their study hours and exam results.  The group that did positive visualization got the worst grades and studied for fewer hours.

Similar results have been found in many domains including weight loss, finding a romantic partner and quitting smoking.

Why should fantasizing about a great future be such a hindrance?

It may be that when people fantasize about things going perfectly that they are then ill-prepared to deal with setbacks.  And since you’ve actually experienced success in your mind you are less motivated to get success in the real world.

However, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Haven’t we all heard of athletes that practice visualization and gotten great results?

It turns out that there are at least two types of visualization that helps improve both motivation and performance.

One is called Mental Contrasting which I wrote about in another post.

Another is called process oriented visualization.

In the same study I mentioned above there was a group of students that imagined studying for their upcoming exam.  That group of students spent the most hours studying, had the least pre-exam anxiety and got the highest grades.

So if you want to achieve your goals, don’t visualize success.  Instead, visualize yourself taking the actions that will produce success.  You’ll be much more likely to put in the hours it takes to reach your goal.

In fact, that’s what great athletes do.  They don’t visualize the celebration at the end of the game.  They visualize the process of shooting in basketball, the process of hitting the ball in baseball or the process of catching the ball in football.  Visualizing how to properly do these specific skills is what helps boost their performance.

What do you think of this research? Will you start visualizing the actions needed to achieve your goals like many great athletes do?  Please leave a comment below.

Reference:
Lien B. Pham, Shelley E. Taylor (1999) From Thought to Action: Effects of Process-Versus Outcome-Based Mental Simulations on Performance

How To Do Anything Better In Just 30 Seconds

How To Do Anything Better In Just 30 Seconds

Would you like to know a simple trick that can allow you to perform better in just a few seconds?

The answer has to do with stereotypes.

In one study researchers Jochim Hansen and Michaela Wänke from the University of Basel decided to test the effects of thinking about stereotypes to see how they affect performance.

Specifically they wanted to know if thinking about stereotypes of skilled people would help improve performance.

So they took college students and had them answer trivial pursuit questions to find their base level of performance in answering general knowledge questions.

They then divided these students into two groups.  One group was asked to write about the typical characteristics of college professors.  Another group was asked to write about cleaning ladies.

They then took another general knowledge test made of trivial pursuit questions.  This time those who thought about college professors got more right and those who thought about cleaning ladies got a lot more wrong.

They determined through a questionnaire that having students think about college professors made them fee more confident about their knowledge base and therefore perform better.

They did another study in which they tested how stereotypes affected persistence.

They had college students hold a hand grip for as long as they can to see how long they would persist on this task.  Then they had half of them do a writing exercise on stereotypes of athletes and the other half write on stereotypes of “permanently unemployed persons.”  Both groups then did another hand grip test.

This time those who thought about athletes held the hand grip about on average about 7 and a half seconds longer than they did before.  Those who thought about unemployed people held the handgrip for 16 fewer seconds than they did before.  Those thinking about athletes got stronger, those thinking about unemployed people got weaker.

So what does this tell us?

To raise your performance quickly and easily think of a general stereotype that has the skills you need.  If it’s knowledge think of college professors.  If you need to be funny think of comedians.

One note of caution though, the stereotypes of people who lacked the skill participants needed – cleaning ladies are thought of as less knowledgeable and the permanently unemployed are thought of as less persistent – had the greatest negative effect on performance.  So avoid thinking about the types of people who lack he skills you need when you’re about to do something important.

Second, other research shows this strategy does not work if you think of a specific person of extremely high ability like Picasso for artistic performance or Michael Jordan for athletic ability – the standard is too high and you may downgrade your self view in comparison to that person.

So when will you use this idea to help yourself?  Leave a comment telling when you’ll use stereotypes to improve your performance.

Reference to the study mentioned in this article:

Jochim Hansen and Michaela Wänke “Think of Capable Others and You Can Make It! Self-Efficacy Mediates the Effect of Stereotype Activation on Behavior” from the journal “Social Cognition”

How To Gain The Critical Mindset Proven By Science To Make You Successful

How To Gain The Critical Mindset Proven By Science To Make You Successful

Did you know that there is a critical mindset that’s proven to make you more successful?  I’ll tell you exactly what it is today and how to develop this mindset.

This critical mindset was discovered by Carol Dweck of Stanford Univeristy.  She found that how you think about abilities like intelligence—whether they can be developed or are fixed can influence how successful you are for the rest of your life.

She calls the belief that abilities are fixed the fixed mindset and the belief that abilities can be developed with effort and learning new strategies that growth mindset.

In one of many studies that show this effect, two groups of seventh graders were divided into two groups to see whether teaching about the growth mindset would make a difference to their grades.

Both groups were given eight weeks of instruction. One group was taught study skills in a workshop format.  Another group was taught through citing scientific studies that the brain is like a muscle and that it’s connections grow and develop as we learn.  As a result, they came to believe that their intelligence could be developed.

Their grades in math – one of the most challenging subjects for middle-schoolers – were measured before the workshop and weeks later.  Only the students taught that intelligence can improve with effort had better grades.  The other students experienced a decline in math grades (something that is very common with middle-school students).

The teachers of both groups of students knew they were in a special program but didn’t know exactly what they were being taught.  However, they started sending in reports about changes they noticed in some students.  Here are just a few quotes from the teachers of the growth mindset students.

Jimmy, who never puts in any extra effort and often doesn’t turn in homework on time, actually stayed up late working for hours to finish an assignment early so i could review it and give him a chance to revise it.  He earned a B+ on the assignment (he had been getting C’s and lower).

Here’s another:

M. was far below grade level.  During the past several weeks, she has voluntarily asked for extra help from me during her lunch period in order to improve her test-taking performance.  Her grades drastically improved from failing to an 84 on the most recent exam.

A Way To Develop The Growth Mindset

So how can you change your mindset (if you need to)?

Unfortunately, when you’re an adult merely learning that the brain can grow and change may not be enough to get rid of years of believing that abilities are fixed.  However, there are some strategies from another intervention using self-persuasion theory that may be helpful.

Try answering these questions and sharing your answers with others in written or verbal form.

1.  What are at least three reasons why it is important to realize that people can develop their abilities? Include implications for yourself, your family, friends and co-workers.

2.  What is an area in which you once had low ability, but now perform quite well? How were you able to make this change?

3.  Write an email to an imaginary person who is struggling in life with advice to help them improve, include anecdotes about how you have personally dealt with developmental challenges.

4.  Identify three instances in which (a) you observed someone learning to do something they were convinced they could NEVER do, (b) why do you think this occurred? And (c) what may have been the implications.

Each of these questions is based on different psychological theories about how people change their beliefs.  To go into the four different theories to explain why these questions are so useful would make this post too long.

However, if you try them, you will experience a shift in your mindset especially if you share your responses with others.

What do you think about the growth mindset?  Leave me your comments below.

Reference to study above:

Blackwell, L., Trzesniewski, K., and Dweck, C.S. 2007. Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development 78 (1): 246-263.

Dweck’s book that describes the life-changing results of developing the growth mindset in more detail than I ever could on this blog.

Dweck CS 2006. Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

The One Belief Proven By Science To Make You More Successful

The One Belief Proven By Science To Make You More Successful

Yes the headline above is true.  There really is a belief proven by the past two decades of research into people’s beliefs about themselves that proves there is one belief that will help determine how the rest of your life turns out.

Before I tell you what the belief is try responding with an “agree” or “disagree” to the following four statements (your responses won’t be stored).

  1. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
    Agree
    Disagree
  2. You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are.
    Agree
    Disagree
  3. No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.
    Agree
    Disagree
  4. You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.
    Agree
    Disagree

If you answered “agree” to statements 1 and 2 you probably have what’s called a fixed mindset when it comes to intelligence.  So you believe that people’s intelligence is fixed and you have what’s called a “fixed mindset” with regards to intelligence.

If you answered “agree” to statements 3 and 4, then you probably have a growth mindset when it comes to intelligence.  You believe that people’s intelligence can grow with effort and you have a “growth mindset.”

Whether you believe that people’s intelligence is fixed or can grow, that belief will determine how successful you can be, how well you bounce back from adversity, and how much you actually grow as a result of your life experiences.  In short it literally determines your potential for success and happiness.

Believing intelligence is fixed leads to a desire to “look smart” and so those that have this belief have a hard time dealing with failure because each failure shows they lack ability.  They tend to avoid challenges.  They give up easily, ignore feedback and often feel threatened by the success of others.

The belief that intelligence and other abilities can be developed through effort leads to a desire to learn.  These people embrace challenges, persist in the face of obstacles, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.

For a much longer list of the differences between people with the two types of self-beliefs click here for a PDF graphic that shows the differences side-by-side.

Here’s an example from the research that shows how people might pass up an important opportunity that could improve their lives due to their mindset.

This study was conducted at the University of Hong Kong in which everything is in English—classes, textbooks and exams—everything.  But some students are not fluent in English.  So if they got a chance to get better in English—something that would impact their success in college—you’d think they’d all jump at the chance right?

So researchers asked those students not fluent in English if they would take a course on English if the university offered it.  The researchers also asked students to fill out a questionnaire with questions like the one above such as “Do you think intelligence is something that cannot be changed?” to measure their mindset.

Students who had a growth mindset said yes.  Those with a fixed mindset said no.

Why would students with a fixed mindset say no?  Because taking a course in English might reveal their deficits in English.  And they would rather feel smarter in the present even if it’s at risk to their college careers in the long run.

This is just one of many studies showing the power of mindsets in determining whether or not a person will take advantage of learning opportunities.

In another study, students making the transition to junior high were followed for two years.  They had been tested to see which of them had growth or fixed mindsets.

As I’m sure you know, junior high is a difficult time for many students.  Classes are harder, instruction is less individualized, teachers are more remote etc.  These challenges and others caused many students grades to slip.

However, only those with the growth mindset maintained their grades.  The fixed mindset students grades continued to drop as the study went on.

The interesting thing is that both groups had the same records to start with.  So the lowered achievement of the fixed mindset group can only be attributed to their mindset and no other factor.

So what can you do if you have a fixed mindset and want to change it?

Unfortunately, mindsets are habitual so you can’t just decide to change and have that change last.  You will need to work at changing your mindset.

Here are some suggestions from the research to help you.

1.  Understand that the brain can never perform a task as well today as it can tomorrow.  Why?  Because when you learn a new skill the brain grows new connections, and these connections get stronger after you go to sleep and wake up.  This means that—everything else being equal–you are likely to do better the next day just because your brain has grown.  If you keep this in mind, you’ll be better able to focus on the learning that can only happen over time.

By the way underperforming students who were taught brain facts such as this gained lasting improvement in their scores in math—usually underperforming student’s worst subject (Mindset p218-221).

2.  Consciously set learning goals along with any outcome goals you create for yourself.  Goals can become habitual if set often.  So if you create learning goals each day, you may find after some time that you unconsciously look for learning opportunities and grow your growth mindset.  Examples of learning goals for me are: Learn how to write enticing headlines for my posts and learn how to do interval training without harming my hamstring.

How valuable will developing a growth mindset be for you?  Let me know by leaving a comment below.

References:

Blackwell, L., Trzesniewski, K., and Dweck, C.S. 2007. Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development 78 (1): 246-263.

Dweck, S, Carol 2006. Mindset. New York: Random House. 218-221

How To Avoid The Type Of Goal Proven To INCREASE Your Chances Of Failure… And The Kind Of Goal You Should Set Instead

How To Avoid The Type Of Goal Proven To INCREASE Your Chances Of Failure… And The Kind Of Goal You Should Set Instead

There are at least five different types of what are called achievement goals by social scientists.  Some goals increase your chance of failing and some increase your chances of succeeding according to the research.

I’m only going to discuss the two most important of these five types of goals.  The one that can help you the most and the one that can hurt you the most (you can find a scientific paper describing all five here).

The type of goal to avoid is the ability goal – whose purpose is to prove you have the ability to do something.  For example, if you need to give a presentation and you have the goal of proving how well you can speak, you have an ability goal.

The type of goal that is most helpful is a learning goal.  In this type of goal you would approach a public speaking situation with specific ideas in mind for what you can learn from the experience.  For example, you might decide you’d like to improve your ability to connect with the audience, your cadence or your use of pauses.

Learning goals are linked to many positive outcomes.  Students with learning goals for example use deeper processing strategies in their courses such as “elaborating” and “networking.”  People with learning goals also tend to increase their efforts after failure.

Although individuals with ability goals can experience high levels of motivation when they are succeeding, they tend to use more superficial learning strategies and when they experience failure they experience more negative feelings and reduced effort.

In one study pre-med college students taking a general chemistry course were tested to see whether or not they endorsed ability goals or learning goals or one of the other types of goal.

After the course their grades were tabulated.

It was discovered that overall the students with learning goals outperformed all other students.  In fact many of those with low performance at the start of the course got better grades on the final exam than they had on any previous exam.  Students with ability goals that performed poorly at the start of the course performed worst of all on the final.

So what does this mean for you?

To achieve the most out of life you should set learning goals whenever possible.

If you want to build a successful business focus on the outcome but also focus on what you need to learn to achieve that outcome.

If you want to be more organized, discover what skills you need to gain to achieve more organization and then set about learning those skills.

Focus on what you need to learn and avoid all focus on proving how smart or competent you are.

This can be challenging though as we actually set many goals without being consciously aware of them.  And the types of goals you focus on are determined by your mindset.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the kind of mindset that allows you to naturally focus on learning goals.  It’s a mindset that’s also been proven in over 20 years of research to increase your achievement.

Until then, please tell me what you think of the idea of learning goals in the comments area below.

Reference to study discussed above:

Grant, H. & Dweck, C. S. (2003). Clarifying achievement goals
and their impact. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
85 (3), 541-553.

How To Create Instant Habits

How To Create Instant Habits

I know my title is probably hard to believe.  However, research done over the past 13 years by Gollwitzer and many others has shown that it’s actually possible to create instant habits by using a very specific kind of simple plan.

This simple plan is called an “implementation intention” by scientists like Gollwitzer and has been proven effective in a variety of domains from helping students study during Christmas break, to getting women to do regular breast self-exams, to taking medication regularly.

But because the term “implementation intentions” is kind of a mouthful, let’s use a variation of the term Chip and Dan Heath used in their book Switch and call them “verbal action triggers.”

So what is a verbal action trigger?  It’s an if-then plan you use to connect a specific cue to a specific behavior.  For example, I created the following action trigger for myself “If I sit down at my desk, then I start writing my next post.”

It’s a great way to get yourself to do a specific task that you want to do right now but it’s real power is it’s ability to get you to engage in new habits practically overnight.

In one study 114 adults who had a heart attack were put into two groups to see how well verbal action triggers might affect their level of physical activity.

One group was given instruction in how to use verbal action triggers, another group was not given this instruction.

Both groups were given short-term rehabilitation of about 8 weeks and were told that they should continue to exercise on their own 3 times a week.

Eight months later only the group taught verbal action triggers maintained the recommended level of exercise.  The other group’s activity level had dropped off sharply.

So now that you know that this technique works, I’ll give you some specific instructions on how to use it as well as a caveat that explains why it won’t always work.

Here are the instructions:

1.  Pick a goal.  It can be as simple as getting a top grade in a math class. Or getting into physical shape.

2.  Pick a specific action that will help you achieve your goal.  For exercise it might be to go to the gym.

3.  Pick a specific cue that tells you when to engage in the action.  You might decide that when you leave work is the best time to get to the gym.

4.  Put the cue and the behavior into an “if-then” statement.  For the example above “If I leave work, then I go to the gym.”

What you’ll find is that when the time comes you are more likely to remember the goal and more likely to take the action specified in your verbal action trigger.

Now here’s the caveat:   It won’t always work.  In every study there are some people that didn’t respond to the verbal action triggers.  Other studies have been done to find out what make this technique work more often.

Here are some guidelines from the research that can increase your chances of success.

1.  Make sure that you believe you can take the action you are specifying.  The research shows that your belief in your abilities affects the likelihood of a verbal action trigger helping you.  If you don’t think you could ever go to the gym straight after work, this technique won’t help you do that.  So find a behavior you believe you can do at least once.

2.  Make sure you are committed to your goal.  It’s OK if your commitment is an “I have to” commitment as opposed to an “I choose to” commitment.  The research shows you’ll get the same results either way.  But if you are not committed at all and just don’t care about the goal, you won’t get results.  You can increase your commitment to your goal with a technique called Mental Contrasting which I wrote about in my last post.

3.  The strength of the mental connection made by the if-then plan is important.  So if you make up the statement on the fly while distracted by other things the link may not be strong enough.  So repeating the statement it several times in a quiet place where you can concentrate can be helpful.  Also visualizing yourself responding to the plan in the third person has found to make the connection much stronger.

With these three tips, you’ll be much more likely to benefit from verbal action triggers.  Since they take so little time and so little effort to use, you may as well try them several times to see when they do and do not work for you.

So will you use this technique today?  Consider forming an if-then plan then writing about it below.

An Easy Way To Overcome Procrastination

An Easy Way To Overcome Procrastination

Several months ago I read about a technique that causes people to be more committed to their goals called Mental Contrasting.  This procedure has been used to help people follow through on goals as diverse as exercising, time management, test preparation, learning a second language, achieving work-life balance and getting to know an attractive stranger.

I’ve personally applied it to overcome procrastination and seen it produce startling results for myself and I’ll show you how to apply it to overcome your procrastination in this post.

So what is Mental Contrasting exactly?  It’s a technique that involves imagining the benefits of achieving your goal first, then thinking of obstacles in the way of achieving your goal.

The research shows that doing this causes a person who has high expectations of success to feel more energized about their goal because they see reality as putting some barriers in the way.  Merely imagining how great it would be to achieve the goal did not produce these benefits.

And since most procrastinators know they can get themselves to complete an action they are procrastinating on it works wonders.  For example, most students procrastinating on a paper that is due, know they can complete it because they’ve completed many papers before.  They just have a hard time starting early and then following through.

Before I tell you the best way to apply this technique to procrastination though, I’d like to share with you just one of many studies that shows how effective this method is.

In a 2001 study, freshman enrolled in a vocational school for computer programming were put into two three groups.  One group did mental contrasting in which they thought of positive aspects of finishing their program (feelings of pride, improved job prospects etc) and then thought of obstacles in the way (being distracted by peers, feeling lazy).  Another group only thought about positive aspects of reaching their goal, and the last group only thought about the obstacles to finishing the program.

At the end of the study only the group that did mental contrasting and had expectations of success invested high degrees of effort as reported by themselves and their teachers and they also got the highest grades.  Students in the Mental Contrasting group with low expectations felt the least energized and expended the least effort and consequently got the lowest grades.  Participants in the other two groups did not show any differences in motivation or achievement based on their expectations of success.

What this shows is that Mental Contrasting causes you to put in a level of effort that’s in line with your expectations of success.  So if you want to stop procrastinating and start taking action on a goal try the following steps.

1.  Pick a goal, for example, I had a hard time getting myself to plan my week on Sunday so I set my goal to plan the week.

2.  To make sure you have high expectations of success, remember past times that you were able to take that action.  I thought of the other weeks in which I successfully planned the week.  Research shows that describing the past events in the imperfective (I was doing) as opposed to past tense (I did) is most effective in motivating you to take the same action again so I described my past experiences that way by saying “Two weeks ago I was planning my week…”

3.  Think of all the positive benefits that can come from achieving your goal.  I thought about how I’d be more confident that I was taking care of all the things that need to be taken care of if I planned my week.  That I’d feel more relaxed as well.

4.  I thought of several obstacles in the way.  One was inertia from not taking this action for at least two weeks.  Another was the fact that I have so many wonderful things I could do on a weekend with that same time.

After taking these four steps, I felt energized about planning my week and I did it in a very short amount of time.

So will you try this technique today?  If so, consider telling me about how you’ll use it in a comment below.  Thanks in advance for doing this.

Reference to 2001 study mentioned above:

Self-Regulation of Goal Setting: Turning Free Fantasies About the Future Into Binding Goals